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  Featured Artist

Pamela Williams, manager of art at the Range Café Red Boot Gallery in Bernalillo
Photo credit: Oli Robbins

One of Roger Evan’s whimsical sculptures in the Range Café’s art collection

Signpost featured artist: The Range Café’s art collection
Art, art on the Range

—Oli Robbins

On September 4, the Range Café will be celebrating its twentieth anniversary, making it almost old enough to enjoy the fine cocktails it serves. Over the past two decades, the restaurant, co-owned by Matt DiGregory and Tom Fenton, has come to be regarded as a beloved and renowned community staple, yet there are parts of it that are brand spanking new. If you’re a frequent diner at the Range (and let’s be honest, who in this community isn’t?), you’ve probably ventured past the bar and into the Red Boot Gallery, where, last month, a group show of artwork by Range artists was on view. Named in honor of DiGregory’s mom, who loved wearing red boots, the gallery is one of the company’s newer additions.

The incorporation of local art has always been fundamental to The Range’s character, but for many years, the artwork that donned the restaurant’s walls seldom rotated. That changed about two years ago, when Pamela Williams joined the Range’s team as manager of both the gift shop and the art. She decided that the restaurant’s art collection needed to function as an organic entity, moving and changing often, so as to reflect the vibrant attitude of the restaurant itself.

Pamela explains that it takes a certain kind of art to be truly at home in the Range. Says Pamela, “We talk about something being “Rangy” or “Range humor.” So, what exactly makes a work “Rangy?”

“Sometimes,” says Pamela, “it will be a quirky juxtaposition of the elements in the work.” She goes on to say that “Rangy” artwork often engenders discussion, and may sometimes provoke a debate. “Rangy” work may also be unpredictable, regionally obvious, eccentric, or tongue-in-cheek. Certain subjects, like trucks, wildlife and distinctive local scenery seem to appeal especially to the Range’s patrons. Pamela notes that Frank Fell, one of the Range’s longest-standing artists, whose playful paintings often include truck imagery, is an example of an artist that “just works.” The paintings by Zannah Noe, one of the Range’s newer artists, whose works treat aspects of Americana, have also proved successful. 

The Range carries art from various price points, and lately has been taking on more and more untraditional wall art and combination, mixed media pieces. Says Pamela about finding art that somehow fits, “It’s a dance about what’s appropriate.” And just because someone has been showing at the Range since its inception, doesn’t mean their work will always decorate the same space. Pamela insists on new art—if something has been hanging in the same spot for too long, “it needs to go away or get moved to a new location.” Pamela explains that while the Range feels very strongly about supporting the community, and its plethora of talented artists, it’s sometimes necessary to clear a wall of old favorites and adorn it with something new. Funny enough, it’s the Range’s loyal patrons, more than its artists, that find themselves startled by change. “There are so many people who are guests at the Range who are very proprietary about it, very aware of change.” Such guests will dine at the same table and sit in the same chair each time. Pamela feels that these faithful regulars deserve something new to look at from time to time.

It’s no wonder that diners feel so at home at the Range. As Pamela puts it, “the company works really hard to convey that sense of family and community and make everybody part of it when they walk in.” The restaurant’s homey atmosphere encourages its customers to develop an intimate relationship with the art, and this relationship sometimes leads to confident purchases. Pamela notes that the comfort level is different in the Red Boot Gallery and in the restaurant than in most other art venues: “Everyone is welcomed, and stories are traded endlessly. If you were in a more formal gallery, you wouldn’t necessarily have the conversation that helps determine whether a piece works for you or not.”  

In addition to running the Red Boot Gallery and the art in the restaurant, Pamela also manages the gift shop and is responsible for ordering all merchandise. She tries to maintain a generous selection of hand-crafted, local goods. For example, ninety percent of the wine is from New Mexico vineyards, and all of the liquor, with the exception of the tequila, is from New Mexico distillers. The selection of fine liquor and wine has become so extensive, that people are beginning to treat the shop as a one-stop liquor and gift store.

Pamela has a degree in metal-smithing and jewelry design, and owned a furniture collectable business for almost thirty years. She hopes that by drawing on her backgrounds in fine art and staging, she can help make the Range a solid part of the larger cultural scene. When Pamela began managing the Range’s art, she sensed that the artists had always been responsible for choosing which pieces they would show. She decided it was time to lend a curatorial eye to the restaurant, and now sifts through artists’ works in order to find good fits, of which, she assures me, there is no shortage. “The community is so rich in talent. I feel so lucky to have such good things to choose from.” Even though the Range currently hosts a bevy of great artists, Pamela is always open to finding new artists whose work qualifies as “Rangy.”

For the most recent show at The Red Boot Gallery—which the Range puts on in conjunction with Bernalillo’s La Junta Galleria—artists were asked to bring a piece that had never before been shown at the Range. The show successfully demonstrated the wide range of styles, themes, and subjects the Range exhibits. Says Pamela, “The artists rose to the occasion. There were a number of people who gave me things that were wildly different.”

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